Theme memo blog. News, discussion and information about the National September 11 Memorial & Museum

Rebuilding: The first director of WTC looks toward the future as he recalls the past

The first director of the World Trade Center and the man behind the twin towers' original construction recalled picking the architect for what were once the world's tallest buildings and his ongoing relationship with the Frenchman who walked a high wire strung between the two skyscrapers.

The WTC's first director, Guy Tozzoli, chatted Monday with museum staff of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. He was hired in 1962 by then-named Port Authority of New York to head the development, construction and management of the World Trade Center, a complex aimed to revitalize lower Manhattan.  He was responsible for the entire project and chose architect Minoru Yamasaki.

Yamasaki originally designed several 80-story towers for the site, but Tozzoli was persistent in increasing the design to feature twin 110-story buildings.  Tozzoli said he has the tendency to keep making things bigger, even now.

He now serves as president of the World Trade Center Association, an organization he founded in 1970 to connect countries through economic activity.  At its inception, the association had only 15 participants from 15 countries.  Today, there are 325 "World Trade Centers" in cites across 92 countries.  In 1999, Tozzoli was nominated by the South Korean and North Korean governments and was accepted as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work.

“I like what I do,” said Tozzoli, who at the age of 88 still heads the organization.

Tozzoli oversaw the World Trade Center in New York from its construction in the 1960's until its destruction on Sept. 11, 2001.  His office was located on the 77th floor of the North tower, and he enjoyed his time working there.  "I loved it," he said.

When speaking about the towers, Tozzoli said, “Windows on the World was my favorite place,” a restaurant he hopes to see recreated in one of the future towers.

Tozzoli also joked about his relationship with Philippe Petit, the French high-wire artist who “danced” across a tightrope between the twin towers in 1974.  The pair, who are now friends, speak at public lectures together.

“It’s really fun,” said Tozzoli, who loves sharing stories like Petit's high-wire act. “They become part of you," he said, still remembering the day mountain-climber George Willig scaled the 110 stories in 1977.

On Sept. 11, Tozzoli watch the towers he built burn and collapse while he was arriving late to work from the Holland Tunnel.

“I wanted to go down and be with the people,” he recalled.  But he was turned away after showing a police officer his credentials.  "He said, 'I don't care if you're the pope.'"

Now, Tozzoli said he wants “to help people do it all over again” and he said he's “looking forward” to visiting the 9/11 Memorial when it is completed next year.

Tozzoli also hopes to still be around when the new towers are finished.  He joked, "I'm older than God."

By Meghan Walsh, Communications Associate for the 9/11 Memorial